Preliminary Design Development Plan for Lovett Library Park designed by LRSLAstudio.

by Sue Ann Rybak

More than 50 residents packed the Lovett Library Meeting Room on Saturday, Dec. 8, to voice their opinions about the proposed plan to transform Lovett Library Park, the grassy area adjacent to the library at 6945 Germantown Ave., into a vibrant community area. The meeting was sponsored by Mt. Airy USA and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Last summer, Mt. Airy USA, in collaboration with the Community Design Collaborative, which places volunteer design professionals to work on projects for community development corporations (CDCs) and other nonprofits, unveiled the preliminary design concepts. The proposed design includes reconfiguring the approach to the library, an outdoor reading garden, a story ring, a nature play area for young children and an amphitheater for outdoor performances.

“Mt. Airy USA is excited to be moving forward in this next phase of Lovett Park’s development,” said Elizabeth Moselle, director of commercial corridor revitalization for both Mt. Airy USA and the Mt. Airy Business Association. “We are eager to hear the community’s input on various design elements. We expect to have solid cost estimates in the coming months and hope to be able to break ground on the first phase of construction by the end of 2013.”

Natalie Miovski, of Mt. Airy, said she loved the proposed project because it brought together the entire community.

“There are storytelling areas, there are places for chess – it’s more of a play space that enhances education and learning,” Miovski said.

Not everyone agreed with her. One longtime resident who declined to give her name said she didn’t see why the community needed another playground.

“There is one right across the street,” she said. “I would rather see a library open seven days a week. I don’t care what happens in that park.”

Miovski added that the playground is where kids can go to “burn off the cookies.”

“This park is meant to be an area where they [kids] can investigate other parts of their mind that I think will raise the spirit of libraries,” Miovski said. “When you get more people interested in libraries and this space, then you get more people who vote for mayors who give money to keep libraries open seven days. If I turn to kids and say ‘let’s go to Lovett Library,’ they are going to associate it with those mushroom chairs and sitting outside and playtime, and that is a great thing for the library”.

Dan Gordon, of Mt. Airy, adamantly agreed with Miovski.

“I agree a hundred percent with your take on this,” Gordon said. “What we’re missing here is – yes, maybe we have been coming to this library for 60 years, but the mission of the library does not always stay the same. The mission of the library has to change with what the current needs are of this place. This is a perfectly wonderful use to extend the libraries mission into that space.”

Julie Bush, principal of Lager Raabe Skafte & Bush Landscape Architects (LRSLA), discussed the next phase of the project design development.

“We have really tried to maintain the green essence of the park,” Bush said.

After listening to residents concerns, Bush said changes to the preliminary plan were made. The revised plan will keep the perennial garden along the wall and rose bushes – issues that were brought to their attention by the Friends of Lovett Memorial Library.

Bush said that during the design development stage LRSLAstudio will begin developing “working drawings” that will adapt the design concept to the actual conditions and physical constraints of the site. The next phase in the project will be developing cost estimates and an implementation program. Bush said ultimately everything depends upon funding.

“It’s going to be a phased construction,” Bush said. “We are assuming the first phase is going to be the front corner, but it all depends upon cost estimates, and we don’t have the money for construction at this moment.”

Justin DiPietro, a landscape architect for LRSLAstudio, presented the scheme design while Bush prompted attendees to answer questions regarding various styles of chairs, benches and other elements in the proposed project. One source of strife among attendees was the possible construction of a food Kiosk in the plaza. Several residents were opposed to the idea, citing concerns over vandalism, maintenance and security. Other attendees suggested the addition of bathrooms to the Kiosk.

One attendee said that without the addition of public bathrooms, “the librarians sole purpose will be to police the bathrooms.”

Milton Cohen, of Mt. Airy, agreed that the addition of bathrooms would be a useful service to anyone using the park for a long period of time. Another attendee added that bathrooms were an essential element not an option.

Cohen proposed the addition of a dance floor or exercise area. He said musicians, dancers, and other instructors in the area could hold free performances or classes there. The suggestion is currently under consideration.

DiPietro said the firm will consult with the Water Department to discuss the cost of building bathrooms and storm water management.

Questions regarding funding remain an issue. David Moore, who owns the Philadelphia Print Shop in Chestnut Hill, said originally he was told that no funding for the project would come from the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Moselle said while the project would not receive any funding from the Free Library’s operational funds, it was unclear at this time whether the project would receive Free Library capital funds – a statement that many longtime residents found disturbing.

“If I’m hearing that capital dollars are going to go into something that isn’t intrinsic to the mission of the Free Library of Philadelphia and its mission through the Lovett Memorial in Mt. Airy, then I’m hearing something that’s disturbing me.” Moore said.

Mt. Airy USA has applied for a variety of grants for the project.

Elise Rivers, who owns Community Acupuncture of Mt. Airy (CAMA), is offering a challenge grant to support the Lovett Park development.

“I love using my business as a way to support community, and I hope that other businesses will see me do that and also be inspired to pool their resources in support of community,” Rivers said.

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